We humans are quite the experts on the sin of selfishness. We want to be in the “driver’s seat” of our life. We want what we view as ours. In fact, we frequently want what we don’t have. Even something like Facebook is literally organized to feed into this egoism as we crave “likes” and try to present the best possible version of ourself to the world.
Our sermon yesterday on Philippians 4:13 touched on our selfish tendencies when it comes to reading the bible. We almost always try to place ourselves front and center in the story! Likewise, many Christians struggle with reading this “famous” Philippians verse through a self-centered lens. We are supposedly the important park of that verse, that I can do whatever I want. God is only an afterthought or a means to an end.
I preached that it matters greatly where we place the emphasis for Philippians 4:13…
I can do all things through Christ who gives ME strength.
I can do all things through CHRIST who gives me strength.
Hopefully we can confidently proclaim and believe the second way of reading verse 13!
Now obviously, God can in fact give very personal messages. Hopefully we have all experienced that for ourselves, where God touches our individual life when we least expect it–whether that be the uplifting song playing on the radio, that seemingly random word of kindness from a friend, or the calming presence of the Holy Spirit during a time of stress.
But many times in our faith journey, we treat ourselves as the main character of the story. We want what God offers us, rather than pursuing God for God’s own sake. Too many times we struggle with reading the bible selfishly, only asking ourselves “What can I get out of this?”
Personal enrichment can indeed be powerful. In the same breath, however, it is worth noting that we miss out on so much more if we never get beyond asking “What can I get out of this?”
For starters, what about reading the bible to learn about God? Learning about God’s character can help us see how God loves the entire world!
What about reading scripture to educate ourselves? God gave us a mind to learn things and develop. Surely we can use it as we read the bible!
What about studying the bible to refine our walk as disciples, seeking to serve our neighbors in need? Instead of being self-centered, perhaps a better question to ask would be “What can I learn from the scriptures about loving other people?”
Theologian Stanley Hauerwas explores this kind of idea:
For the truth is that since we are God’s good creation we are not free to choose our own stories. Freedom lies not in creating our lives, but in learning to recognize our lives as a gift. We do not receive our lives as though they were a gift, but rather our lives simply are a gift: we do not exist first and then receive from God a gift. The great magic of the Gospel is providing us with the skills to acknowledge our life, as created, without resentment and regret. Such skills must be embodied in a community of people across time, constituted by practices such as baptism, preaching, and the Eucharist, which become the means for us to discover God’s story for our lives.
In other words, we live out God’s story instead of our own.
As you study scripture, I would caution against being self-centered. In the big picture, we are participants in God’s story throughout history. Instead of me being the main character, obviously God should be!
And all this talk about stories and “main characters” naturally leads to another powerful idea. Since we are a part of God’s story, we ought to tell that story to others. You might recall a classic hymn we often sing in church that illustrates this point:
This message is so countercultural in our selfish sort of world. It goes against what we personally want. It goes against simply telling “my story” for boastful purposes. Yet as Christians, we are called to continually surrender our will and pursue God’s. We abandon our desires, and take on being Christlike. We hopefully toss aside our plan in favor of God’s perfect plan.